I made a serious mistake this week, and it involves you.
I want to tell you about a serious mistake that I made in my writing this week. It’s embarrassing to admit an error this big, but it's also important to unpack the mistake so that you can recognize it when somebody else tries to do the same thing.
First, context. I was writing a chapter on abuse, so I took some time to sit a while inside some hard, old memories. My chest and arms felt tight as I remembered how certain Christians talked to me during those years:
“God has a plan for this.”
“The anger of man does not accomplish the righteousness of God!”
“Be patient! You're not supposed to be surprised when fiery trials come to you...”
I don't have to explain why those comments weren't helpful, because there are already twenty-five blog posts floating around the Internet, telling people not to say this stuff. But people do say this stuff, and because of those comments, I not only felt like I had to survive the sheer pain of the trauma, but also that I had to perform spiritually while I was hurting. Double whammy.
But performance in severe pain is an impossible task -- how is a suffering person supposed to perform spiritually when God feels far away? Where do you take your disappointment, not just with mean people, but with a God who seems to be looking the other direction while you hurt?
Thankfully, enough years have passed that I’m starting to see (I think) why God allowed some of this hardship. However, I still feel anger. I still feel wronged. I still have the regular human emotions about it.
So when I am writing about that dark time now, I feel a strange surge of power. I am the one who gets to tell this story this time. I can describe the villain any way I want. I am no longer trapped. I can control every memory at last.
Just like a painter's emotions affect his brushstrokes (Robert Henri), unresolved disappointment and anger have a way of tainting the stories we tell. And that's kind of scary, because I don't know that most people would have recognized this was happening in the words I was weaving. I spoke with authority and confidence, and because I’m a powerful writer, I think I might have been able to persuade most of you to agree with me.
If I had succeeded, what would I have persuaded you to do?
First, to dismiss theology, as if the justice of God weren’t any sort of real solution to our suffering. Secondly, I would have convinced you to dismiss academic arguments explaining the presence of evil in the world. Thirdly, to mistrust anybody who tends to offer help that is more didactic than relational -- to value sensitivity and style over substance and truth.
That's some pretty rotten stuff, but it's not the worst of it. There is one more thing that I did which is probably the core mistake of my whole life.
Through all of this, I essentially said, “You can’t trust God, but you can trust me.”
I invited strangers into my fellowship as a surrogate deity. I pushed the invisible God out of the way and took on the job of comforting and protecting the needy myself -- without Him.
Instead of being a vehicle for God’s love (because He has said that He uses us to be His hands and feet for one another, right?) I was more like Eve, trying to be like God without God.
And this is a really big deal.
The lifelong mistake of the firstborn child is often hyper-responsibility. We tend to be Uzzahs, trying to catch the ark before it hits the ground. We tend to be the oldest son working in the field, angry when grace is shown to a wayward youngest.
We really believe we can save the world, if you will either just shut up and listen or get out of the way and let us fix it.
We make golden calves out of ourselves, because God is taking too long to send an answer down from the mountain. And when we convince you to focus on us, not Him, we twist your loyalty from reliance upon the (sometimes frustratingly) invisible God to a sweet, feminine, tactile voice that might Facebook message you back if you write her.
I don't mean to imply that those old, didactic comments directed at me were either helpful or holy. What I do mean is that my reactivity led me to be equally harmful. I’m telling you this openly so that you can see how easy it is for a strong writer to be simultaneously persuasive and toxic.
If you had read that chapter as it was, I really think you would have loved it. I think you would have trusted me because my words felt brave and honest. I think you would have thought, "She's funny. She doesn't judge people. I want to hang out with her." I think you might have been wowed by the powerful, artistic language I chose. I think you would have felt understood and liked.
But these are simply the emotional responses you are likely to face every time you read a powerful writer — and especially bloggers like me who only have to hit “publish" to slip into the depths of your relationship with God.
So pro tip. Watch out for people like us. Remember my story and see how close I came to misleading you.
You know, I love it when you read my blog. But if you aren't reading your Bible along with my blog, that's not healthy. It's not healthy because I might goof up one of these days and you might not catch it.
And besides reading your Bible, you need to be spending time listening to trained, exegetical teachers like Tim Keller. Because while we are living in a postmodern age where expressive, literary lay writers like me are in their heyday, there is no substitute for a trained theologian.
Tonight I am thanking God for an honest and perceptive friend who pointed out my error. If he hadn’t said anything, I might have let this go to print. I might have hurt you. I might have hurt someone you love.
Please remember what I almost did to you, and may God protect you, friends, in this age of artistic teaching. There is so much bad advice out there offered so winsomely. There is so much dressed as good that will not ultimately do you good.
Fruit that looks good to the eyes and tastes sweet on the tongue may poison you before it's all over.
Because of this, you need to be on guard against writers like me. Our enemy knows how to steal, kill, and destroy. He is not above using the over-corrections of well-intentioned, honest bloggers to tear your soul apart.